The North Clare area is dominated by the Burren; small towns and villages emerged on the fringes of its rocky borders. Ennistymon, Doolin, Lisdoonvarna, Kilfenora and Corofin form its southern boundary while Fanore and Ballyvaughan clip the northern end.
Each town has its own unique character. Kilfenora is world-famous for its Ceili Band and it also has the highest concentration of celtic High Crosses in Ireland as well as a 10th century cathedral. The Burren Centre in Kilfenora has a wealth of information on the Burren, its archaeology, flora, fauna and geology.
Corofin is located on the River Fergus, and a favourite haunt for fishermen. It also has the Clare Heritage Centre, and a comprehensive Genealogical service for those chasing their Clare roots.
Ennistymon is the second largest town in Clare. It has been a thriving market town for centuries and many original colourful shopfronts remain in use.
The coastal town of Ballyvaughan and Fanore village are located in some of the most beautiful parts of county Clare. This area is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts; walking, surfing, fishing and scuba-diving to name but a few.
Lisdoonvarna is a spa town north of Doolin on the N67, with a population of approx. 800 people. The name, anglicised from Lios Dúin Bhearna, means “Enclosure at the Fort by the Gap”. Originally famous as a mineral spa, it is now more popular for its 5-week Matchmaking Festival than its healing spa waters.
In the 18th century, a Limerick surgeon, Dr. Sylvester O’Halloran discovered the benefits of the spa waters, rich in iron, sulphur, magnesium and calcium. People came from far and wide to bathe in and drink the waters to gain relief from diseases such as rheumatism. The spa still houses a Victorian Pump House.
Meet Your Match in Lisdoonvarna
Matchmaking is one of Ireland’s oldest traditions, and every year Lisdoon becomes the centre of the matchmaking universe for the whole month of September and the first week of October. This festival can be traced back hundreds of years to when a time when farmers came to the matchmaker looking for a wife, once the crop harvest was in. Incumbent Willie Daly, is a third generation matchmaker with an impressive record of success over several generations. His daughter, Clare has now joined the family business.
The festival is now billed as Europe’s Largest Singles Event, with up to 20,000 visitors descending on the town to eat, drink and… dance their hearts out! Old-time dancing is a huge draw, with 5 big dancing weekends as well as dancing at the town hall every day from noon.
Folk Festival Legends
Lisdoonvarna was also famous for its annual folk music festivals which ran from 1978 to 1983, featuring folk legends such as Van Morrisson, Planxty, Jackson Browne and The Chieftains. This festival was immortalised in the Christy Moore ballad aptly named ‘Lisdoonvarna’.
- The Burren
In 2011, the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher were designated as a UNESCO Geopark. Officially, the Burren is a glacio-karst landscape, but the term ‘Burren’ is derived from the Irish word An Bhoireann which means ‘a stony place’, a much more appropriate name!
Formed during the last glacier (about 10,000 years ago), this unique region is a limestone plateau covering 360 km2 of North Clare. More than 60% of the area is bare rock or rocky pasture; enormous slabs of limestone pavements with criss-crossing cracks known as “grikes”, leaving isolated rocks called “clints”.
A Botanist’s Delight
For flower lovers, the best time to see the Burren is in May, when an array of amazingly delicate flowers dot the grey limestone with spectacular bursts of colour. The Burren is home to more than 70% of Ireland’s native plants (635 species), including unusual combinations of Arctic, Alpine and Mediterranean species. It is particularly famous for its orchids – 22 of Ireland’s 27 native orchids are found here. Visit Burren in Bloom for more details.
Stony Graves and Caves
There is evidence of human settlement in the The Burren dating back 6,000 years. It is littered with approx. 2,000 ancient monuments to the past including 90 megalithic tombs. Our ancestors had a very limited selection of building materials – stone, stone or… stone. This has meant that their structures and graves have survived thousands of years after they were originally built. The most famous monument is the iconic Poulnabrone Dolmen, a large capstone grave built circa 5,800 years ago, pre-dating the Egyptian pyramids. This can be visited all year round, and is located on R480, close to Ballyvaughan.
The Burren is Ireland’s most important cave area and includes Pollnagollum which is the longest cave in Ireland. Aillwee Cave and Doolin Cave are both open to the public.
With all the Burren has to offer its visitors, the best way to appreciate it is slowly and on foot. There are several guided walks available, including Tony Kirby’s Heart of Burren Walks. Tony is infectiously passionate about this unique region.